Thursday, August 2, 2007


I inherited an old floor loom (and the training to use it) from my paternal grandmother who was a weaver. She mainly wove kilims (Google it) which allows a fairly free design to be woven. A religious (Catholic) woman, many of her commissions were from churches and one of her tapestries was gifted to Pope John Paul II (probably her proudest moment?). She was a prolific artist and her works spread to all corners of the world, but close to home can be seen in the University of Queensland's Women's College and the Bendigo Cathedral (to name a couple that immediately spring to mind). My Dad build me a loom seat (in the front of the picture) that doubles as a storage box for yarn, and the girlcat has adopted it as Her place.

One of the earliest things I wove (as an adult, not under her tutelage) was a small tapestry depicting two fish. It's quite small, about 20 cm wide and 30 high, and very handmade - I spun the wool and plyed it myself, then skeined and dyed it using food colouring and alum (from the chemist) as a mordant. A valuable lesson learnt was that if you intend to dye wool, it has to be spun very evenly or you end up with a mottled effect as the tightly-spun bits don't take up very much dye while the loose bits soak up more than their fair share and go quite dark. Good if that's the effect you're looking for, but not so wonderful if you want a constant, solid colour. As the colour I had this problem with was the blues and greens in the background (i.e. the 'water'), it didn't matter much and actually added interest to the piece. Serendipity!

The birds I wove a few years later, being much taken with the intense tropical colours in Queensland (which haven't come out in the photo goddammit), and this time I used acrylic knitting yarn from the supermarket. It's very different from wool to weave with in that it's springy (wool for tapestries/kilims has very little stretch) because it's actually intended for knitting jumpers (that's pullovers if you're English or sweaters if you're from the States). The good thing about all that extra elasticity is that there's much more room for error - one of the main problems in weaving kilims is keeping the tension even, because if you don't one end will be narrower than the other or it will get pouches or 'bubbles' in it and never lie flat...

This considered (and the time and the price), I chose acrylic again
to weave my most recent one, a heraldic snake, which took ages because I lost interest in it for a couple of months. Tapestries take much longer to weave than fabric - even on a comparatively small one like this (it's about 55cm wide and 95cm long) it was taking me about an hour to do a centimetre of weaving. 95-odd hours later...

The interesting thing about kilims is their structure - the pattern is made up of little squares - you draw it up on graph paper - and one square equals, say, 4 warp threads and 10 weft threads. Then you might move the colour over one more square and so on and the pattern grows. It was only towards the end of my grandmother's life (she died in 1994) that you could draw pictures on computers using pixels - exactly the same principle!

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